Sex life Boost is something everybody can benefit from. It’s too easy to let desire fade away. Listen to learn how to restore vitality. Novelty doesn’t work. This interview with Stephen Snyder is really important to finding the energy to make your sex life matter.

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My guest today is Stephen Snyder, a sex and relationship therapist, who has a private practice in New York City. What makes him unique, is that he is also a physician and he’s written a wonderful book, love worth making, how to have ridiculously great sex in a long lasting relationship. The book contains lots of practical advice that many individuals and couples have found useful, regardless of whether they ever ended up seeing a sex therapist or not. There are tons of blurbs for your book on Amazon. I just share one from the sex therapist and professor at American University and I’ve attended his workshop. Barry McCarthy. Most sex advice in books and on the Internet today is wrong. Dr. Snyder explains why.

Rhoda: Why did those who offer sex advice in books or on the Internet get it wrong?

Stephen Snyder: The first is that most people who talk about what to do in bed, talk about what you should do in bed
And you know, seven ways to drive him crazy, eleven ways to make sure she’ll come back begging for more and all those other cosmo headlines that we know and love. Unfortunately, that really doesn’t work. Sex & passion, is selfish and no heroine in a romance novel, you know, ever has a hero rip her clothes off and then say to her, okay, now tell me how you’d like to be touched. It’s good if he knows something about that, but what she really wants and what everybody reading the book wants, is to feel his passion and passion is selfish, in our most passionate moments we are very selfish.

And that’s the thing that’s missing, because of that, you can’t really sell the kind of sex advice that I’m talking about as a commodity. If you’re talking about giving or providing, yeah. You can give your partner lubes and vibrators and all sorts of stuff and all sorts of kinky accessories. But the kind of receiving that I’m talking about, he is really beyond anything that you can really market or put forward as a commodity. So not that many people are interested in it. That would be one answer to your question.

What I talk about in the book is what I call the sexual self, which I borrow from a colleague of mine, from the 1970s where she talks about what is the sexual self and I elaborate on that, but basically the sexual self is infantile, I sometimes joke, your sexual self is never more than two years old and as something that has basically an infantile nature, it just wants to be told that it’s wonderful and it wants to be fussed over and enjoy it and celebrated and treated like it’s the most important person in the world.

The kind of ordinary healthy narcissism that we’re all born with, but that we all surrender in going through to adulthood, with sex you want to get some of that back. You want to again, have that feeling that the two of you are the only two people in the world, kind of like a mother and an infant. So that also is the basis of a lot of mistakes in sexual advice. For instance, my favorite, let’s work on your sex life. Your sexual self is two years old at max. It has no idea what the word work even means. It’s just ridiculous.

Rhoda: I really liked that sense of lightness and playfulness combined with the selfishness that’s such a neat perspective on improving your sex life. You know, that seems more authentic and genuine.

Stephen Snyder: Well, it felt more authentic to me. You know, I’ve been a member of committees that review sex books and I’ve read so many sex books that make sex boring and I swore I would not write a book that made sex boring. So I’m glad you found it lively and informative.

Interviewer: In your very first chapter, you begin with, and I quote, the rules of desire are the rules of the heart. Could you explain this more fully?

Stephen Snyder: Okay, perfect. If you’ve gone to presentations about sexual psychology or sex therapy, one frequently hears that your sex life is, and I quote “friction plus fantasy”, or as it’s sometimes jokingly referred to as friction plus fiction. So what the body does and what the mind does and most sex advice is about how to get the friction just right, had a stimulate this or that and get stroking and pressure and rhythms just right, which is not a bad thing. You know, good rhythms are better than bad rhythms or how to get fantasy just right, you know, how to dress up and go to a bar and pretend that you’re not married anymore and how to engage your partner in a different way’s they feel unfamiliar or any of that kind of stuff. Get the novelty going. The problem with friction and fantasy is they get old very fast.

So what I decided do is to explore an aspect of the self-sexuality. That’s really not talked about very much, because it’s very difficult to find a language to do so, which is this infantile regressive dimension, which I, you know, call the sex life of the heart, where it has to do with getting to that infantile state of mind, where you recover that primary feeling of narcissistic, a wellbeing & primitive fusion that one experiences in infancy.

What did sexual arousal feel like? You know, masters and Johnson studied the sexually aroused body, but they never really studied the sexually aroused mind because it’s completely subjective.

So I just asked people and when I came up with three characteristics of the sexually aroused mind. The first is absorption. When you’re really aroused, you’re not really thinking of anything else. You’ve just thinking about sex and your partner and you’re just kind of a little lost, a little bit of a hypnosis as a joke. People on the subway who gets sexually aroused end up missing their stops and that’s a good thing. People who are sexually aroused ended up, you know, coming late to meetings if they arrive at all, you know, I’m the father of a couple of teenage kids and I have a leg up on most parents because, you know, when my kids come back at three in the morning and my wife and I had been desperate wondering where they are, I don’t even ask them, you know, I know they were, you know, in some kind of a state of arousal and, you know, they just lost track of time, you know, it’s fine.

And we all do that when we were teenagers. Unfortunately, we kind of forget to do it become we are not teenagers anymore, which hopefully, we’ll talk a little bit more later in the half hour. So absorption, real important. Sex makes you kind of dumb and that, you know, really great sex makes you really stupid. The second is regression. We get selfish, demanding. We lose our ordinary coping capacities, that’s why people can be catastrophically disappointed and frustrated sometimes when sex doesn’t go well. The thing about the regressed state of mind is that you may be very tuned into your partner, very absorbed in your partner, but it’s on a primitive level. You don’t really want to relate to them as an adult. You don’t really want to hear about how their day went or hear the details of their conversation with their boss. You just want them to lie there and tell you everything’s wonderful and make nice noises.

The third is validation. Most people, when they are in a state of sexual arousal, they feel a sense of, yeah. This is me and this is where I live. You know, the rest of this stuff that’s bull. But this is really where I live and that’s the reason by the way that if you’re gay, you can manage as many gay people do early in life to have sex with the person of the opposite gender and everything would go well, you can get hard and wet and people can have orgasms, but the person says, everything worked, but it didn’t do anything. The sense of validation that I really crave, they only get with somebody of the same sex. So absorption, regression and validation or if you could sum it up in, I try to tell people in the office, what it is they’re looking for. I said, well, you really want to get dumb and happy.

Rhoda: That makes a lot of sense because a lot of times I hear, well, particularly women distracting themselves away from their sex life enjoyment by, “Oh, I’ve got so much to do tomorrow or can the kids hear us?”

Stephen Snyder: God, yeah. It’s so classic, the man and woman having sex, they’re a married couple or at least co-parents and the woman hears a noise from the child’s bedroom and goes, wait a minute, I’ve got to go check and the guy says, what do you mean? They’re fine and the woman says, no, I’m worried. I’ve got to go check. I lost the feeling completely. So it’s a kind of a gender difference in general, although, you know, there’s exceptions there.

Rhoda: Yes. So next question. So many of my women clients arrive with not wanting sex, defining it as a chore, which seems really sad to me, because they’re missing out on their sex life. What would you say to them?

Stephen Snyder: You know, I’m a man. So everything I know about women’s sexuality has to do with people I’ve met and counseled and been married to or dated, plus what I know from listening to a lot of people talk about women’s sexuality, there’s a lot of efforts these days to create kind of a Unisex sexual psychology. There’s a lot of resistance, especially in progressive circles. Just saying that the genders are different, if politically, unpopular, but I really kind of can’t really buy it, in my office, the genders are different in night and day. There are of course exceptions. I’m very fond of the work of a Daphne Joel in Israel, who’s a neurobiologist, a gender researcher, who talks about a lot of us are kind of sexual mosaics in terms of our sexual minds.
And I think that’s definitely true.

So one of the things is that most women seem be built not to want sex, unless certain specific conditions are met. So they have to feel desired and good about their bodies and good about the direction the relationship is going and not angry at their partner and not distracted and not overworked and not tense or thinking about something really scary that’s coming up the next day. There are a lot of conditions that seem to be met.

That’s when I talk to women, either professionally, you know, or at conferences, I very often hear, here’s my ideal of a sexual experience. Take me away somewhere. Tell me exactly what’s going to be. Tell me what I’m going to wear, what we’re going to have for dinner, where we’re going to be. Let me plan it all out. Tell me exactly what we’re going to do. Let me get ready, let me get in the right state of mind and then I’ll really be able to let myself go. It can be a whole process.

Men and I speak with some authority here. I happen to be one, who is very different. There’s not as many elements, usually just attractive woman taking her shirt off. That’ll do it and so there’s just not as many conditions usually that have to be met. The woman in bed with her husband and she hears a noise in the next room. One of the necessary conditions for her has just fallen of the puzzle and now the whole puzzle doesn’t make sense anymore, because there’s a noise in the other bed. The Guy, he really doesn’t care. And so he doesn’t need as many things to be going right.

So as a consequence, many women lack desire, desires a funky thing. Nobody knows exactly what we mean by desire. Masters and Johnson had the good sense never to study desire, because it’s almost impossible to study, because who knows what it is really. Helen Kaplan, famous sex therapist in 1970s, took masters and Johnson’s sex response cycle and she tacked something she called desire onto the front of it. But it was never really based on any kind of science. And to this day, we don’t really know whether desire is just the little piece of arousal that makes you want more arousal or whether it’s something else.

And there are millions of things that can make women not want to have sex. You know, most modern women, stress and exhaustion, really top the list, hating your body, feeling angry, depressed or worried, painful sex, which is extremely a common, too much pressure to respond sexually. Too much pressure to have an orgasm, bad sex in general, hating your partner. Trauma from your past is a huge reason that women end up avoiding having a sex life.

Those are all rational reasons and then there’s one big irrational reason, which is worrying that there’s something wrong with you for not feeling desire. If you’re worried that there’s something wrong with you for not feeling desired, that can really lead to you’re not feeling desire, because it’s not such a very erotic thought.

Rhoda: That’s right. It sounds like the long list for women is about easily being interrupted in their sex life. I often talk to my women about Barry McCarthy’s frame of reference, which is to try to positively anticipate it and not get interrupted as something I’m adding on in the future from listening to what you said. That’s great.

Stephen Snyder: Often, you know, especially after a woman becomes a mother, that’s very difficult for them to tear themselves away from thinking about the children. Even with very competent childcare, often it really calls for a nice bed in breakfast with somebody from the family taking care of the kids and even then it’s sometimes difficult for her to tear herself away.

Stephen Snyder: We men have an advantage because we really don’t care that much. We love our kid, but we really they don’t care, I always joke, you know, my wife, her favorite thing in the world is when my kids ask her where their socks are. She just loves to go look for our kid’s socks. I couldn’t care less. They go where is it? I say, I don’t care.

Rhoda: And I really think that testosterone and estrogen are different animals and that it really… women seem to be able to flat line from the interruptions and I don’t think I’ve really used that word with my women, “easily interrupted”. So I really thank you for that.

Stephen Snyder: And it can also totally go flat line during intercourse. You know, something could be going on and then nothing’s going on. It can just leave and it’s a major difference. I don’t hear that so much from men. The other thing that is different for women is that if I see a couple that are in a sexless marriage, say they haven’t had sex in three years, usually the man is still masturbating.

Stephen Snyder: With the woman it’s variable, sometimes she still is and sometimes she says, you know what? I haven’t had a sexual feeling in two years. The way I interpreted this is that many women seem to have a thing with their desire where it’s a little bit like the screensaver programs on the old time desktop computers. If you don’t touch the mouse for about a half an hour, the screen just goes dead and you will just see goldfish swimming across the screen, until somebody touches the mouse again and then look, things are back up. So a woman not having a good sex life for two years, it’s just gone. And then, you know, she has an affair or her husband gets a little therapy or something and then she starts getting some good sex. She’s back up.
Rhoda: And that fiction that you talked about earlier is why an affair can… because it starts a whole different level of fantasy and not the being taken for granted thing that was happening before.

Stephen Snyder: Feeling desired by somebody who, you know, who desires you as opposed to your husband is a sure thing. So that’s a big payoff emotionally for the woman.

Rhoda: What are the biggest sexual mistakes you see couples making?

Stephen Snyder: Okay, in the short term, I’d say the biggest mistake is to treat your sex life like a project that’s designed to get an orgasm. I usually say as a sex therapist, so we need to think of sex as like a meal. You know, you’ve got your appetizers, which is foreplay and ideally in the best of all possible worlds, you go to a great restaurant, you’re having really good appetizers, you become momentary oblivious to the fact that they’re appetizers, you’re not thinking about your main course. So man is enjoying his wife’s breasts. He’s there in the moment with them. He’s not thinking about anything else and then they bring in the entree.

Okay. She wants to have intercourse. Oh, fabulous. We get an entree too. All right, and really, his penis is inside her body and she has a similar kind of feeling about where she is with her body and there in the moment with that and they’re enjoying the entree.
And then at some point, many minutes later, the dessert tray rolls around and they go, oh yeah, I forgot we ordered dessert. Oh, that’s fabulous. That just kind of finishes you off and that’s how orgasm should be. I always joke that sex therapists are the only people in the world that they don’t really care about orgasms, because you know, to a sex therapist, it’s just dessert, you know, you could have it in the restaurant or if you want to go next door for ice cream, it’s fine you can get desert anywhere, that’s easy and everybody knows how to give themselves dessert.

But most couples just, you know, it’s like they go to bed together, it’s 11:00 PM, they got to get up early in the morning, so let’s just have dessert and they try and give each other orgasms and they just end up chronically hungry, because they didn’t really have the whole meal.

They didn’t really get what Masters and Johnson called Plateau, they didn’t have that sustained intense arousal.

That really is what most of us remember when we’re remembering the best sex we ever had. Nobody can ever remember an orgasm; we are remembering the best sex we ever had. We are remembering that high sustained feeling of just being kind of dumb and happy. So in the short term, I would say people are over-focused on orgasms in their sex life.

In the longer term, I would say not knowing what to do when you lose desire, because all couples lose desire. Desire doesn’t feel the same in a committed relationship. If you don’t watch it, it can easily slip into feeling like obligation to have sex because you’re married and I always say there’s a kind of a middle ground between desire and obligation and to me, the best word I can come up with, although it turns some Catholics off, is a sacrament.

It’s a sacrament in the marriage. It’s something that’s a special thing and a special kind of feeling that you share together and it’s an important thing. You may not desire it instead, if you skip that time, you’d really feel frustrated, if you’ve been married 30 years or something, but still it’s an important thing and you want to do it. What I say, it’s doing the sacrament or that special thing and doing it the right way, so that inspiration comes to you. Inspiration doesn’t always come right at the start; inspiration sometimes comes right in the middle.

The advice couples get in the media is that they should do things to soup up their desire. Usually some sort of novelty or adventure, you know, take a sexy vacation, buy a sex toy, pretend you are different people in a bar and that kind of thing.
And that never works, because novelty gets old. You know, the sexual mind is like a child, that’s like buying a child a toy, you know, and he plays with it for a couple of days and then it ends up broken in the corner and I would say 50 shades of gray, got a lot of American women very excited for two weeks.

You really need a method that’s a little more durable than that. The method that I talk about, I call it the two step, which is the method that I routinely recommend to couples, to all couples and it involves an alternative to the standard sex date; in a sex date, you circle the calendar for Thursday evening. Then Thursday evening, the kids go to bed, you go to bed and have sex. Unfortunately, what if you’re not in the mood for sex?It often doesn’t lead to good sex.

So the two step is you go to bed Thursday evening with the intention of doing nothing together. It’s essentially a mindfulness exercise and so you’re just hanging out and shifting gears from doing state of mind to a being state of mind; just breathing and being aware of the way your body feels in bed and inhabiting your body again and feeling the temperature in your room and so forth and then once you’ve kind of entered into a state where you can really identify the moment that you’re living in, then you turn to each other and it’s like any other mindfulness experience that always makes everything else better. So that’s what I taught, the two step. One is a mindfulness practice and second is to do whatever kind of sex you’re going to have. It makes it much better and it’s an alternative to spicing it up or something, which I think is ridiculous.

Rhoda: One of the things I read about was your concept of simmering which is important over the years. Couples lose this idea that small moments of low-level arousal are a good thing. Could you tell my audience more about that? because I just thought it was great!

Stephen Snyder: I’m thrilled that you asked it. So one of my favorite things to object to in the popular culture is that most couples treat getting excited together like it’s some kind of a disease. They avoid getting excited together unless they’re going to have sex. I see this, especially with women, including women colleagues and including women’s sex therapists, colleagues, they don’t want to wear anything or do anything that’s going to get their husband hard, because they’re sure that if they get him hard, that they have to relieve him of his erection by getting him off, which is totally ridiculous and I always tell them, go home, ask your husband whether he enjoys having an erection or whether it’s something that he feels he has to be relieved of and chances are if he’s over 15 years old, he’ll say, oh no, I love having an erection.

Erections come and go, it’s wonderful and the woman says, oh my God, I’ve been avoiding wearing sexy things to bed for all these years. So the idea is you can get excited and it doesn’t mean you always have to have sex. Teenagers know this, they get excited all the time and they rarely get the opportunity to have a sex life. So I always say simmering is like two teenagers, three minutes between classes. You know, they hold each other, inhale the center of each other’s hair and you know, kind of feel each other, breathe deeply together, make out a little bit and then the bell rings and they go to their opposite classes, feeling dazed and not really paying attention to anything in class for the next 10 minutes.

That’s perfect and there’s no reason that married couples can’t do that. Instead of kissing goodbye, they could simmer goodbye. It takes a minute. Instead of kissing good night, they could simmer goodnight, you could fall asleep feeling excited. It’s wonderful.

So one might say this two step that I was talking about before is sex without feeling desire. You can still have good sex and simmering is kind of desire without having sex. People always say, isn’t that frustrating? And I go, yeah, it’s good Frustrating. It kind of keeps you in the game. So that way the next time you have sex, you’re not starting off cold, because simmering works to assist your sex life.

Rhoda: I love your enthusiasm. Do you have other ways to suggest how to take care of our sexual feelings? I had a 30 something share with me once that she was in a group of young women, all in their thirties, who were all talking about ways to avoid sex, which really depressed me completely and I thought, how many of them are missing their sexual peak? I talk about that all the time to women, you know, this is important. Don’t neglect your sexual feelings. What are your ideas about that?

Stephen Snyder: Well, as we discussed, there are millions of reasons that a woman could lose sexual desire. A really good approach to it, is one that I talk about all the way through the rest of the book, which is to really use mindfulness principles, because a lot of women are not really in their bodies and so mindfulness really gets you back in your body and it gets you back in the moment, which is a real challenge for many women.

There’s really good data over the last decade or so from my colleague Lori Brotto in Vancouver, who incidentally wrote a great book Better Sex Through Mindfulness and she describes her method, which she uses in group in Vancouver and it’s an eight week course, she teaches women how to restore desire by learning mindfulness. I routinely send people to a mindfulness based stress reduction courses, which is a standard mindfulness course. It’s offered almost everywhere in the United States. And you see very good results with sex. And then I incorporate it in my own practice and what I call as previously mentioned the two step, where you’re doing a little mindfulness first and then you’re having a better sex life.

Rhoda: You know, I saw something on Facebook that said mindfulness was just a myth and it was all blown out of proportion, is just concentration and I was so irritated because it’s been so helpful to so many people…

Interviewer: So what are some of the sexual Knot’s that couples tangle themselves up in, that defeat having a robust sex life?

Stephen Snyder: All right, well, one of them we already talked about when we were talking about women’s desire. You’re a woman who has low desire and she goes, oh my God, there’s something wrong with me, because I have low desire. Now you really have low desire.

Stephen Snyder: That’s a one-person sex knot. There are one-person sex knots and there are two-person sex. I have an appendix in the back of 11 different sex knots. A sex knot is when your natural normal reaction to something makes that thing worse. I was inspired by R.D. Laing; his book knots is a very depressing book, & mine, I take a little more of a hopeful attitude towards these knots, because most sex knots, you can really untie.

For instance, the classic one, man withdraws from his wife for whatever reason. Usually it’s because he thinks she’s angry at him. He withdraws from her. Now she’s really angry at him because he withdrew from her. So he withdraws some more even further away. When you withdraw, that’s one sex knot and then it’s associated with when he withdraws from her, he also doesn’t approach her anymore sexually. So now she freaks out and gets upset with him and now he really withdraws from her and now he really has no desire for her and the whole thing goes to hell. So that’s a classic sex knot. The other one, a woman takes a long time to reach orgasm and it worries her so much that she can’t reach an orgasm. So it’s basically these circles and these visors cycles.

Rhoda: Yes. Is there anything valuable you want my audience to know about improving their sex life with their partner that we haven’t covered?

Stephen Snyder: I would say be suspicious of anything you read, because most of the advice is wrongheaded. Most of the advice tries to commodify sex, by making it a matter of getting better friction or more adventurous fantasy or more exciting fantasy and if you stay with friction and fantasy, you really don’t get where you need to go, in order to have a sexually fulfilling relationship long-term in a partnership. However, if instead you realize it’s in this realm of sex of the heart, which is an extremely infantile way of being and you’re looking for anything that can put you into that infantile state of mind, be it mindfulness, anything you can do to be more with your partner, any ten ways you can tap into arousal somewhere in the universe to get yourself into that selfish present moment state of being and just enjoy it when you’re there and not have to do anything. That’s really going to be the most important thing.

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